Book: Mistress Shakespeare

The book: Mistress Shakespeare, by Karen Harper

The edition: New American Library paperback, 409 pages (plus reading guide)

Cover blurb: “A bold and intriguing historical novel about the woman who was William Shakespeare’s secret wife.”

Synopsys: the book is based on one of the biggest mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare’s life: according to records, the playwright was betrothed to one Anne Whateley and just a few days later he wed another woman by the same name, Anne Hathaway. This novel is imagined as an autobiography by the first Anne, Shakespeare’s true love. It ranges from the way they met, when they were little more than children, through family feuds and historical wars, down to Shakespeare’s years of success in London and to his death.

My thoughts: while the idea was good and could make for an intriguing historical novel; while the books seemed (as far as I can judge) well researched; while the idea of a novel with the structure of a play, divided in Acts, was brilliant; still, the execution was wanting. Most of the time, the author was telling us things, not showing or narrating them. For example:

“Wintertime, it was when it was so cold my little brother Gilbert’s tongue stuck to a pewter cup when he licked it, and everyone was blowing on their fingers who didn’t have warm gloves, and people spoke with white puffs of air as if those tiny clouds could carry their quick words to stinging ears.”
[…]
Will never just said something plain, like the weather was cold, but always made word pictures to prove it.

Now, it would be great if it actually was that way. I imagine William Shakespeare did use word pictures quite commonly in speech. But the Shakespeare character in this book doesn’t, the example above is the only instance of this kind of words. For most of the novel he just speaks plain words, at most sometime he quotes from his own plays and sonnets. Too bad.
Even worse is the way the author tells readers about historical facts. In a good historical novel history should come to life by happening to characters. Here, the big problems of the time (wars, the plague, etc.) do involve relatives of the main characters, but they read like a history book.
It doesn’t get better on the level of characters or story. I found the whole story of this forbidden love quite boring. And I cannot fathom why Anne should continue to accept and love William, if she was the strong character she is depicted here, and he the jealous, violent rogue never giving her anything, not an ounce of love or respect. Do you mean she could stand all of it just because of a childish crush on him? Come on, people grow out of such crushes!
Bottom line: don’t bother.

Read this if: I think that it would be a good read for people who like women fiction and the Kinsella books. It is a quick read with no pretense.

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